Podcast 127: Make or Accept a Relationship “Repair Attempt,” A Sharpie-Related Travel Hack, and a Vow to Write More Legibly.

Update:  Tomorrow, I get to make a cameo appearance on episode 11 of the “Happier in Hollywood” podcast to talk about my favorite subject these days: the Four Tendencies, and how knowing your Tendency can help you make progress on a writing project.

Try This at Home: Make or accept a “repair attempt.” We mention relationship expert John Gottman’s book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I explore the issue of “Fight Right” in my book The Happiness Project.

Happiness Hack: When traveling with young children, write your cell-phone number on the child’s arm with a permanent marker.

Know Yourself Better: If you’re facing a difficult task, do you prefer to tackle it early, or do you prefer to work your way up to it?

Listener Answers: Many listeners suggested ideas for handling a sad anniversary.

Gretchen’s  Demerit: I’ve developed a bad habit of making illegible entries in my Filofax planner. It’s extremely annoying.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to my daughter Eliza for her interview on episode 38 on the podcast “The Other ‘F’ Word” [the other f word is failure]. You can also listen to her podcast “Eliza Starting at 16.


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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #127

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  • Jean Marie

    I can’t come up with a decent balance for the know yourself better, but the question might shake out to Do you tackle the worst first?

    (No balance though cause contend at the end sounds silly to me).

  • Rusty

    I love your dish- clearing example, it really resonates and describes the difference between someone who dives in to finish an unpleasant task and get it over with versus someone who delays it to savour the moment instead. I would call the distinction ‘dishes now or dishes later’ – are you a ‘dishes now’ or a ‘dishes later’ person. For the record I am dishes now, my husband is dishes later – we have reconciled ourselves to this difference some years since. Best wishes, Rusty

  • Kristin Vicari

    I was going to say the same thing! Are you a “frog eater” or a “frog boiler”? (referring to the quote: “how do you boil a frog? slowly”)

    • Kristin Vicari

      Also “eat the frog” is part of a quote by Mark Twain, I believe.

  • Christian

    How about up-hillers (easy to hard) vs. down-hillers (hard to easy)? Just as you discussed, I am not one or the other, but find it depends on the task. Love your podcast.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific, I love this!

    • Jill

      Or to simply even further – “ascender” or “descender” 🙂

  • Please don’t ignore this

    Dear Gretchen,

    I have been a loyal reader for many years now, and as a fan, I wanted to give you what I think is much-needed advice:

    Please, in some post/article/book, acknowledge and engage with your privilege. I’ve been seeing this point taken up in numerous critical reviews of your books. And no, Gretchen, you haven’t dealt with this adequately. I know you’ve (very briefly) commented about how dwelling on the misery of others isn’t going to help anything, and yes, I agree that your idiosyncratic journey can help us even if you aren’t the average American woman.

    But the problem is, you aren’t one notch higher than the average woman, or even a couple notches higher. You are DOZENS of notches higher. You are in the top 1% percent. And that’s why hundreds of people critique your work like this:

    ‘Long story short, ugh. I loved The Happiness Project so much that I became a superfan, and wanted to read all I could about Gretchen Rubin. A NY Times article, “On Top of the Happiness Racket” (and a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece) about her revealed how much about her home life she’d kept from the readers: she lives in a triplex in the Upper East Side, and husband Jamie is “a senior partner at BC Partners, a hedge fund. Nor does she mention that her father-in-law, known to readers as the sage, affable “Bob,” is known to the world as Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, who stepped down last year as an adviser to Citigroup.” So she’s a millionaire! Why does this matter? Because most of the things that affect my daily happiness at home don’t even register as a blip on her radar. Money is only mentioned when she mentions the expensive family portraits she ordered for the holidays. Rubin never mentions it, but I also got the impression that her family is fortunate enough to hire housekeeping help, since the only chores and home maintenance she mentions are activities like tidying up all of her books, organizing trinkets, making photo albums, painting the home office. Before I can even think of “building a shrine,” I have to do mundane activities like… chores. Doing those things daily greatly affects my happiness. Rubin’s friends don’t discuss having to make sacrifices, they discuss truffle oil gone bad. Her memoir-only based approach failed for me because Rubin’s experience as a millionaire on the Upper East Side means that she is literally living in a different world than I am.’

    ‘Being a regular Mom in the Midwest I simply cannot relate to the life this woman lives. Not only in terms of the wealth she has but also that she clearly has no.child care issues which affords her the time to flit around and experiment. I wouldn’t be nearly as annoyed by this if I felt like she understood how elite she is.’

    ‘I honestly don’t think she understands how different her experience is from the rest of us.’

    ‘I wonder how “happy” she would have been if she had walked in my shoes when the company my husband had worked for collapsed in the economic meltdown caused by people like like her husband and we have had no health or dental insurance since January 2009 but have chronic and serious health problems with no insurance nor money, then had to have surgeries and wound up in bankruptcy due to the medical bills, all while raising a child and living in a rental townhouse on $250 a week unemployment plus what I earn self-employed. The rich are clueless about real life. Real life is not having a multi-millionaire husband, living in million dollar real estate and having a father in law who is treasury secretary! Of course, she’s happy! She is like Mitt and Ann Romney who think they understand regular women when they do not.’

    Gretchen, as a fan of yours, I recommend writing something that not only acknowledges, but ENGAGES with your privilege. Talk about how you’re a wealthy white woman, or say that you’re going to try learning about the struggles of the billions of women of colour or poor women who face difficulties you have never encountered and probably don’t know or imagine. Put that razor sharp mind and intelligence to good use. It’ll give you more humility, perspective and understanding and it will refine your work. I’m not saying you have to be 100% inclusive or empathetic or self-aware, but TRY – you’re such a fine writer that I feel confident you can do this. Otherwise, you will just be in a bubble of the elite – that’s not healthy from either an intellectual or ethical standpoint.

    I would also really recommend reading Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. It’s a harrowing and starkly real account of what low-wage workers go through. It will expand and challenge and nuance your view of happiness.

    • gretchenrubin

      Hi Anonymous,

      Thanks for your kind words and your thoughtful, thought-provoking comments. I absolutely take your many serious points. That said, I am who I am, and I write from my own perspective, experience, and analysis, and some people find that useful and interesting—and as you point out, some people sure don’t! There is much to ponder in what you’ve written, and I very much appreciate such careful consideration.

      • Thanks

        Thanks for such a courteous reply Gretchen. I was afraid you might not appreciate such criticism – no criticism is fun, and privilege is a particularly sensitive issue. But I hope it’s clear that I’m a fan and if I didn’t appreciate the constant thought and care put into your writing, I wouldn’t care about what critiques my favourite writer receives.

        I also hope you don’t think I’m implying you’re not already humble or self-aware – it’s just that, from my own experience, I KNOW how easy it is to get caught up in one’s own socioeconomic bubble. And as a writer who influences millions because of the high quality of your work, you can really make a difference. Too many influential or famous people get angry, bristly or dismissive if they’re asked to check their privilege – just by sending me such a nice reply you’ve bucked that trend already. I feel sure that a writer like you could have a powerful impact if you applied your usual nuanced and thoughtful attitude to an issue like privilege. Your work already demonstrates self-awareness, so I think you can make that work to your advantage as well.

        My comment may or may not be relevant to any of your future ideas about happiness. But perhaps reflections on privilege could tie in with philanthropic/self-transcending elements of happiness, like meaning/compassion/charity/empathy.

        Thanks again for your polite reply. I’m definitely one of the many who finds your work interesting and very useful.

  • Danielle Jennings

    In regards to your “know yourself better” question, I use the term “to eat the frog.”

    As Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

    It’s a weird one, but I love using it! To apply it to your question, the title or question posed would be “do you eat the frog or not?” or something similar. Probably not the winner, but wanted to share!!

  • bunny

    This week’s Know Yourself Better immediately brought to mind the idea of Big Rocks that I learned in a Franklin-Covey workshop a former employer sent me to. The idea being that when you prioritize the most important things and take care of them first, the more minor things will get worked out as needed while the things that you care most about get the best of your focus. If you are always devoting your time to putting out small fires and menial tasks, those things that you really care about will fall to the wayside. It’s taught as a way of approaching life and scheduling, but it works on a smaller scale as well. To use the packing example in this episode: If you spend all day doing household chores while putting off packing, then you could end up packing in a hurry at the end of the day and bringing too much of some things while leaving other things out entirely. Whereas done in reverse, you’ve packed as best you can and thoughtfully, and then all the stuff that needs to get done around the house can be tackled as best you can and those little things that can wait until you return from vacation – they’ll still be there.
    This video includes the Big Rocks visual and can explain it much better than I: https://youtu.be/ZHne8c5qg0g

  • Christina (montessoriishmom)

    I look forward to your podcast every week. For the Know Yourself Better, how about “Do you ease or do you seize?” Ease as in ease into things, seize as in seize the day and tackle something right away. Hope you’re having a good week!

    • gretchenrubin

      Love it!

  • LOVE this and every episode. You mentioned a t-shirt in this episode, do you have a link for purchasing it? Thanks!

  • GS

    Gretchen, this is such a coincidence– I woke up today to read that your podcast features a demerit related to your Filofax planner– and yesterday night, I had a dream in which YOU were working on designing a planner/engagement diary themed on your blog!

    • Carlotta Bosso

      this would be so good! I would love a planner design by a list maker , filofax lover upholder! I’m a questioner and a list maker!

  • Judi Von Fange Partlo

    How about “Slow or Go?” for the Know Yourself Better? 🙂 Love the podcast!!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love it!

  • Judith Stoelinga

    For the know yourself better: are you a jumper or a climber?

  • Tori Dunlap

    Love the podcast every week! I especially love the Know Yourself Better segments. For this weeks, what about: Are you a starter or a staller?

  • Malinda

    Hello, and thanks for the great podcasts. I had a thought on tackling big or small tasks first. Are you a climber or a rappeller? I sometimes build my way up to a big task if I think the little ones out of the way will make it easier. For instance if I have to wax hardwood floors I clean up clutter from each room first so I. And I the floors all at once. Obversly, if I need to pack for a long trip I put all the key clothes in the suitcase first (maybe a few days ahead of time) then I can tweak accessories, books and camera gear based on remaining room in the bag.

    Just found your podcasts and driving across country! Great way to stay awake and enjoy the miles!!!

  • Lori D

    Hi Gretchen – Do you have any hacks for how you use or organize your Filofax? I struggle with mine sometimes. I would never give it up (or use my phone instead) but I am always eager to make it more usable or better organized. Thanks!

  • Nicole W.

    My life has been improved in many ways thanks to your blog/books/podcast/etc., and this week your podcast help me communicate with my husband on a challenging area of our relationship. I typed up a text to him paraphrasing the concepts in this week’s podcast and it helped open the door to a bigger conversation in a thoughtful way. Thank you soooo much Gretchen and Elizabeth! As the saying goes, a job begun is half done.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! That’s so great to hear! Thanks for letting u sknow.

  • Vero Salisbury

    Comment on the writing your telephone number on your kid’s arms. I have done this, but was a little put off by the tattooed id number look, uncomfortably reminiscent of WWII horrors. Instead, I write it on the inside of their t-shirts. Also I dress my two kids alike in fluorescent jackets/shirts so that I can spot them and if one should go missing I have a great example of what the other one’s wearing. Along those lines, if you’re really on the ball, take a digital photo at the start of the day so that you can remember what they have on–I lost a kid in a museum and was so panicked I couldn’t remember what he was wearing that day.

  • Maureen Quaid

    Are you a tackler or a slacker?

  • Pamela

    In regard to my saddest anniversary, I didn’t have to do a thing: the “universe” took care of it for me! On Feb 6, 1980 we had our 2nd child, a girl we named Autumn. Fifty-one weeks later, exactly 1 week before her first birthday, she suddenly passed away from a telescoped intestine. Those 2 days have been very sad for me (us) for a very long time and I always dreaded them. Fast forward to 2015. Our son and his wife were due with their first child (our first grandchild) on Jan 26, but she was 11 days late! Our beautiful granddaughter, Kya AUTUMN, was born on Feb 6th, the same day as her late Auntie Autumn! What a gift. I no longer dread Feb 6 as it is now a happy day celebrating our little granddaughter!

    • gretchenrubin

      What a wonderful transformation of a sad anniversary into a happy day.

  • Gail Wilson

    Hey Gretchen! Long time listener here… love ya’ll and the podcast!

    In response to your TASK question. I say “get ‘er done” “get ‘er don’t” 🙂

    I’m a get ‘er done on some tasks, but on others, I’m totally get’er don’t

  • tara klassen

    i totally do the sharpie hack to my kids when we are out and about in crowded places. with 4 young ones who love to explore, i can be quite anxious in large crowds so this helps save my sanity. other tips: i dress all four kids in the same thing (it makes them stand out, it’s easy to only look for one outfit, and other people recognize that the kids must all belong together) and i line them up when we get out of the vehicle so i can take individual pictures of them with my smart phone. this gives me a current picture with their current clothing and hair style so that if one gets lost, it’s super easy to show people my phone and say “this is who we are looking for”.